Fentanyl in CO: Are You Responsible for an Overdose?

There’s no question that drug deaths are on the rise. The opioid crisis in America is where a lot of the blame lies, but there’s a far more sinister villain in the drug world, taking lives in record numbers: fentanyl.

Sometimes drug dealers sell counterfeit pills to others, and those pills are laced with lethal amounts of fentanyl. In those cases, can Colorado hold someone else responsible for the death of that person? Yes – but it’s complicated.

According to the Colorado Sun, over 500 people died in Colorado in 2021 from fentanyl or some combination of drugs that also included fentanyl. However, charging someone in those deaths is a rarity. The first federal conviction for drug induced homicide in the state didn’t occurr until 2019, along with only one other case involving a man giving a 16-year-old fake oxycodone pills that ended up leading to her death.

So what happens when someone provides a substance to another that leads to their death? It’s a complex matter, so read on to try to make a little more sense of what the law says.

Does Colorado Have a Drug Induced Homicide Murder Law?

So, is there such a thing as drug-induced homicide laws? Yes. In fact, Illinois has a pretty strong drug-induced homicide law that can result in a person being charged with the most serious level of felony, Class X, in the state. That state defines the law as giving someone a controlled substance that results in their death.

Colorado’s laws are not as clear-cut. It is illegal to provide someone a controlled substance that leads to their death. However, this only seems to pertain to minors who are killed in the state – rather than those of all ages who may die from a controlled substance they purchased or were given by another.

Even still, it’s rare to see someone charged with drug-induced homicide, because it must be determined that they knew what they dealing was counterfeit and possibly dangerous. If they did know, did they tell the person who eventually died? This is something very challenging to investigate for these reasons – it’s simply very hard to trace and determine who knew what and when they knew it, which is key to prosecution.

If prosecutors don’t have enough evidence, they simply will not file charges. If they don’t feel they can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then it’s not a case they want to take on.

What Is Fentanyl?

Part of the reason drug deaths have skyrocketed in Colorado in recent years is because of the drug fentanyl. It is a synthetic opioid that is normally prescribed for pain, but it’s much stronger than other opioids. In fact, it’s as much as 100 times more powerful than morphine, which makes it incredibly dangerous. A very small amount, the size of a couple of grains of salt, can kill a person.

The problem with fentanyl is that it can be produced cheaply in illegal drug laboratories. It can then be used to create counterfeit pain pills to be sold – and those buying do not know that it contains fentanyl instead of what they believe they’re buying, i.e. oxycodone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that drugs like fentanyl are driving the rise of overdose deaths in the U.S. So, unless a drug is prescribed by a legitimate medical provider and filled at a trusted pharmacy, you simply don’t know if what you’re taking is real – and it could lead to an early grave.

Colorado Overdose Immunity

Colorado Springs Drug Lawyer

Another factor that affects prosecuting people for the death of someone due to a drug overdose: The state wants people to call and report overdoses in order to save lives. To help foster this, there is immunity granted under the law to those who report overdoses and seek treatment for someone to prevent their death.

This law, called the Colorado 911 Good Samaritan Law, states that if someone is dying of an overdose, then getting them help is the highest priority. If you call 911 when someone is overdosing due to a drug overdose event, then you cannot be prosecuted for the use of a controlled substance or the possession of the controlled substance, even if you are a minor.

While this may leave some gray areas when it comes to drug-induced homicide in the state, it highlights why you likely don’t see people being prosecuted for these crimes. It seems counterproductive to those who don’t condone it to save the lives of those who may have gotten ahold of a pill laced with fentanyl.


About the Author:

Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.